The Nile may be Africa’s longest river but it is so inextricably linked with Egypt that it is quite difficult to associate it with any other parts of Africa. So, where does the Nile start? Where is the source of the eau de Nil? Looking at a map, you can trace the head of the Nile back to the environs of Lake Victoria. This seemingly simple task led to many arguments between rival Victorian explorers who yearned for the accolade of discovering its origin.
As the river journeys north from Uganda through to the Sudan, the ribbon of the Nile valley widens, enhancing the river with a verdant border. This is the Nile at its most majestic and historically exciting. Along its route, we have come to know its importance to various pharaohs, its links with Cleopatra and the wealth yielded from Thebes’s tombs including the amazing haul from Tutankhamun. This fine, rich strip cutting a swathe through the surrounding desert has fed Ancient and present day Egyptians alike. It still feeds the imagination of tourists, writers and film-makers who all wish to discover and understand its secrets.
Most people travel the Nile from North to South, from Cairo to Luxor and beyond. To arrive in Cairo is to be thrown headlong into a dust and noise-storm. Its excitement and energy can invigorate or enervate you depending on how you deal with the melee. The Great Pyramids of Giza are part of the urban sprawl of Cairo and you can only take photos of these in desert-scape with your back to the city. It is hard to think that explorers would have come across them rising silently from amidst the sea of sand; life in North Africa seems to be constantly accompanied by the roar of traffic and the constant beeping of car horns! To really get to know the Nile, you need to leave the dust and clamour of Africa’s second largest city and board one of the Nile sailboats or felucca. There is nothing better than to gently float past the towns and ancient sites. You can enjoy this archaic method of transport knowing that this was how intrepid explorers as well as the curious Victorian traveller saw much of Egypt. To sail silently towards the unknown and leave the hubbub of the capital behind must have been like entering a new and yet ancient world.
It takes a few days to unwind and adjust to the dry heat. During this time, you will have enjoyed a few Nubian sunsets. It must be the tiny particles of sand that create the pre-dusk phenomenon. You are now relaxed, just in time for the onslaught of antiquities and archaeological riches that the Nile valley is about to unleash on you. They come thick and fast – Saqqara, Dendera, Karnak, the valley of the Kings, the valley of the Queens, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna and the list goes on as we sail towards Abu Simbel.
The ziggurat pyramids of Saqqara were the burial grounds of Memphis, the old capital of Egypt. They are charmingly familiar, especially if you have visited the ancient Mayan sites of Mexico. Out of all the stops along the Nile, Karnak is one of the most awe-inspiring. The complex of giant pillars dwarf and isolate; you could be surrounded by people and yet most of the time, feel all alone. This is both unnerving and exciting as if you are in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile awaiting a huge stone to come crashing down or for Hercule Poirot to shuffle past!
To travel the Nile is to be constantly amazed and Abu Simbel will not disappoint. The sheer scale of the four figures carved out of one piece of rock is astonishing. This piece of rock measures 30 metres tall by 35 metres wide! The skill and strength of the men who created this, all those years ago, beggars belief and yet something else equally as extraordinary has happened here more recently. In 1968, this ancient monument was moved from its original site. The creation of the Aswan dam and the associated flood threat led to the employment of a group of engineers and archaeologists to save this piece of heritage by moving it stone by stone onto a man-made hill, safe from the threat of water and saved for future generations of wanna-be explorers!